The 2021 ARCA Menards Series season arrived with many holding high expectations for Ty Gibbs and his Joe Gibbs Racing team, who the year prior led the series in wins and laps led despite not running the full schedule.
To say they delivered on those expectations would be an understatement.
Gibbs, who turned 19 during the season, posted one of the most dominant campaigns the ARCA Menards Series has seen en route to the 2021 driver’s championship, his first title in a NASCAR touring series.
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Gibbs, a native of Huntersville, North Carolina, and the grandson of NASCAR and Pro Football Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs, left no doubt about who was the driver to beat in the ARCA Menards Series in 2021. This despite the fact that championship rival Corey Heim of Venturini Motorsports put up a valiant fight in points through the majority of the season.
Gibbs ultimately pulled away from Heim in the standings over the final five races of the season, setting up a scenario in which Gibbs only needed to take the green flag for the finale at Kansas Speedway to win the championship.
“Just keeping my head down; just keep hammering down and and knock off the wins,” Gibbs said of his mental strategy through the course of the year, claiming he did not allow himself to assume he would end the season as a champion. “I feel like driving off confidence is just hard. You have good weekends and bad weekends. And that’s racing.”
Of course, Gibbs didn’t have many bad weekends in the ARCA Menards Series in 2021. In fact, he had just one.
In the third race of the year, Gibbs finished 27th at Talladega Superspeedway. He was involved in a crash that knocked him out of the race on Lap 61 of 76.
That was the only event of the season in which Gibbs finished worse than fourth.
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Gibbs in total racked up 10 ARCA Menards Series wins in 2021, meaning he ended exactly half of the 20 events on the schedule in Victory Lane. The wins came at Phoenix Raceway, Kansas, Toledo Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Iowa Speedway, Winchester Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, the Milwaukee Mile and Bristol Motor Speedway. He won four races in a row from the Kansas Race on May 1 through the Mid-Ohio event on June 4.
Gibbs’ 10 wins in 2021 tied all-time ARCA wins/championships leader Frank Kimmel for the third most in a single season during the modern era. Tim Steele holds the modern-era record with 12 wins in 1997.
Gibbs’ wins came on every type of venue the ARCA Menards Series visits with the exception of a dirt track. He emerged victorious on the one-mile paved tri-oval in Phoenix. He scored wins on 1.5-mile ovals at Kansas and Charlotte, leading all but three laps in those three races combined. He led all but one lap on the two-mile oval in Michigan. He picked up short-track victories at Toledo, Iowa, Winchester, Milwaukee and Bristol. And he dominated the road-course race at Mid-Ohio.
He picked up an absurd 19 top-five finishes in 20 ARCA Menards Series races. His average finish was 3.0.
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The number that best represents Gibbs’ dominance in 2021, though, is his laps led count.
Gibbs ended the year as the runaway Valvoline Lap Leader award winner with a mind-boggling 1,689 laps led through 20 events; or 1,284 more laps led than second-place Heim’s 405. That’s a new record for the ARCA Menards Series.
Steele previously held the record with 1,514 laps led in 1996, and he did that in 25 races compared to Gibbs’ 20.
The Kansas spring race was one of Gibbs’ three flag-to-flag wins in the ARCA Menards Series this season. He also led every lap at Charlotte in May and at the Milwaukee Mile in August. He led all but one lap in two more races, at Iowa in July and at Michigan in August. He also led all but three laps in his Bristol victory. He led all but two in the finale at Kansas.
In total, Gibbs led 64 percent of the laps the ARCA Menards Series completed in 2021, shattering the modern-era record.
Championship seasons do not get much more dominant than that.